Membership Drive

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Chances are if you have a range, you’re offering memberships — but are you actively selling them?

On your website are you actively trying to sell memberships, rather than just merely offering them? How about when someone is in your store, is the staff trying to sell memberships (and have you listened)? Do you have sales contests to incentivize employees for selling memberships? Is there prominent signage about the advantages of being a member?

Assuming you’re a for-profit organization, the answer to all the above questions should be a resounding yes. Let’s investigate why.

Reevaluating Product Sales

Here’s a common scenario: you sell a popular concealable handgun model (say, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0) to a customer. What price did you sell it for? Now, take into account the cost of product, carrying cost to stock it and the expenses of actually completing the transaction (purchasing process, putting into inventory system, time for selling process, ATF paperwork, etc.) Heck with everything involved, you may have gone in the hole on this one-off sale.

Compare that to selling a membership. Quick math is usually very much on the membership side. Many basic memberships are at least $19.99 a month, up to $49.99 a month (and even higher for mid- to top-end memberships) with no ATF paperwork required. Keep in mind, monthly dues aren’t pure profit — there are expenses associated with memberships — but there are intangible benefits not shown on your balance sheet, such as having the member tied to your operation.

Getting away from the money, members can be great advocates for your business if they feel like they’re a valued member in a community.

Most of us don’t put the effort our P&L statement shows we should on selling memberships. Is it because we’re not as comfortable selling memberships as we are firearms? Looking back to when you got into our industry, my guess is it probably wasn’t for your passion to sell memberships. Count me as guilty, I had a range/retail store back in the day when Springfield Armory VP of Distribution Peggy Hickenbottom was the only “Saint” at the company. I put almost all my effort into selling firearms and retail items, neglecting the profit opportunity of memberships.

Don’t make this mistake, you can do both. In fact, focusing on memberships can help you sell more firearms and accessories.

Fitness Influences

Notice in the membership figures earlier, it was based on a monthly fee and not an annual payment. This is something many ranges have picked up on from the king of memberships — the fitness industry.

Offering a monthly option takes more work, with the additional monthly billing and keeping up with delinquent payments. However, most ranges have found the extra effort is worth it. Consider a guest who comes into your facility looking at membership options, if the annual price is $300 and up — as most are — chances are they’ll need to check with a significant other to get approval. With the smaller monthly figure, it may slide under the “significant other approval needed” threshold.

Morr Range in Lancaster, Pa., runs membership promotions throughout the year with
50% off the membership initiation fee. Monthly dues are never discounted, however.

Monthly Membership Upsides

Members get used to seeing your business’ name on the credit card bill every month. Think about your personal expenses — you may have a recurring fitness center bill and every month you say, “This is the month I’m going to use it.” Maybe you do or maybe you don’t. Regardless, you still end up paying. Even when you finally decide to give up and cancel, think of how many months you keep sending payments before you actually do?

Another large benefit to having a guest pay monthly is you don’t have to resell the membership every year, as most monthly programs automatically renew. With the old annual payment model, the guest must re-up for a large sum every year — meaning you’ll have to resell the total package, giving them the chance to reexamine whether or not they want to recommit. Your business is putting a large amount of faith into how their finances look at that particular moment. (Memberships given to someone around the holidays the previous year or those renewed in June–August are particularly at risk of not renewing.)

The best benefit for your business to go with monthly billing is cash flow. Study after study has shown profitable businesses can still fail because of cash flow; in fact it’s often the number-one reason businesses fail. Memberships give you a way to hedge against it. Imagine getting a significant amount of income every month, especially during the slow summer months. Say you’re a smaller range and have sold 500 memberships (a good goal in smaller markets) at $19.95 — it’s almost $10,000 toward your monthly expenses. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Further, it’s $10,000 in the bank without having to sell a product. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, how often were you able to make $10,000 from selling guns in a month? If you did, great — now you need to do it again to keep the money coming in … oh, and don’t stock too much inventory (or the wrong inventory) and lose all the profit to carry costs. Membership doesn’t have near as many obstacles to making a profit each month.

Merit Of Initiation Fees

Many ranges with monthly memberships have had good success by including a one-time, lifetime initiation fee (as long as their monthly fees are current). I’ve seen this fee start at $20 and top out at over $300. This fee helps to keep members paying during the slow season, and can prevent a member from stopping payments in the slow times — only to take advantage of the membership price again as your range starts getting busy.

The thought behind the one-time initiation fee: If a guest wants to cancel, you remind them when they want to rejoin they’ll have to pay the initiation fee again. Another benefit to your business having an initiation fee is the promotional opportunities it presents.

Most of us don’t put the effort our P&L statement shows we should on selling memberships. Is it because we’re not as comforable selling memberships as we are firearms?

Tracy Fornwalt, a partner at Morr Range — a 12-lane range/2,800-square-foot retail facility in Lancaster, Pa. — has great success (selling over 500) with her model of a $99 initiation fee along with $35/month for individual memberships. She runs lots of promotions throughout the year with 50% off the initiation fee as a Black Friday special, but never discounting the monthly fee.

Fornwalt’s priority is retaining the recurring monthly fees. She makes members feel special by giving them first opportunity for upcoming sales events. (When 9mm self-defense ammo was hard to get, members were given first chance to purchase.) In addition, she also uses members as a barometer to gauge how well an idea or new product will go over. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, members were allowed curbside pickup — which went so well she rolled it out to all guests.

Some ranges don’t require an initiation fee, and instead have a stronger legal contract and lock members into a two- or three-year agreement — much like many health clubs use. The goal is the same: Keep the monthly membership cashflow coming into the business.

With tens of thousands of first-time gun owners being added the past few months alone,
they’ll be looking for a community environment to learn from. Encourage experienced
members to take a mentorship role and welcome them in!

Members Progress To Advocates

Getting away from the money, members can be great advocates for your business if they feel like they’re a valued member of a community.

Dick Abramson, former president and CEO of Centennial Gun Club (Centennial, Colo.), now VP of range and retail for Delta Defense, the training arm of USCCA, described the tribal mindset brought on by a membership program.

“People become members of any club for one of two reasons: saving money or belonging. Our goal is the feeling of belonging, like they’re a member of a tribe,” he shared.

To retain members, you must engage members! Items with high perceived value but lower cost to you work best for member benefits.
Allow members to reserve lanes in advance. Establish affinity programs with other local merchants (they may not cost you anything; at worst, some bartering).

Host member-only exclusive events. They can be a special time when only members are allowed in the store, with super deals on select merchandise. The key words here are “select merchandise” — this allows you to work out special buys when vendors offer them and/or sell some merchandise you want to move. It can get you away from having to offer members a discount on merchandise year-round and, equally important, puts you in charge of what merchandise or merchandise category is discounted.

Do Referrals Work?

One idea that sounds good and cheap but hasn’t panned out for many ranges I spoke to is referrals. What could be better than current members recruiting likeminded people to join the tribe? (Well, it turns out many things!) If you’ve had a better experience with referrals, care to share with your peers? Send them to [email protected].

Editor’s Note: In an upcoming issue, Doug will delve into additional membership success stories from Lima, Ohio-based Midwest Shooting Center. Partner Jeff Swinford, one of the largest Anytime Fitness operators in the Midwest, shares some tips on how to implement the fitness industry’s membership model at range facilities.

Click To Read More Shooting Industry August 2020 Issue Now!